School Board analyzes post-retirement program
A program that pays retired Henrico school system employees a percentage of their final annual salaries in exchange for their part-time work within the system saves considerable money on substitute teacher expenses but could provide even more value to the system with several adjustments.
That was the conclusion of an in-depth analysis completed by county and school system finance officials, who presented their findings to the School Board Sept. 13.
At the beginning of the current fiscal year in July, the board increased the requirements of retirees who participate in the Post-Retirement Earnings Plan (PREP) program, mandating that they work at least 28 days during the school year in order to receive pay equal to 20 percent of their final annual paychecks. Eligible retirees may participate in the program for a maximum of seven years; 388 participate currently.
It was the third change made in the past three years by the board, which is seeking to squeeze more value from the 32-year-old program while reducing its annual cost. The PREP budget has dropped from its peak of $8.9 million in 2009 to $5.6 million during the current fiscal year. Prior to this year’s change, PREP participants received 22 percent of their final paycheck in exchange for working 24 days a year.
The program was created in 1980 as a way to provide a benefit to employees, encourage early retirement and save the school system money. During its budget process this spring, the School Board sought specific data to better determine the effectiveness and value of the program. But last week’s work session was proof that categorizing that value is a challenging exercise.
Though it’s relatively easy to determine the cost savings that results from using PREP retirees as substitute teachers – since there is a standard rate of pay for substitutes – it’s much more difficult to determine the value of administrative retirees who perform a variety of other responsibilities, Henrico Finance Director Gene Walter told the School Board.
Walter and his staff studied 507 PREP participants who entered the program during the past seven years and whose replacements were hired immediately upon their retirement. (The study didn’t include nearly 50 other participants whose former positions were eliminated, he said.)
Of those 507, 317 were retired teachers whose combined participation during those seven years saved the system $1.18 for each $1 it spent on the program, Walter said.
But Walter and his analysts could not determine a dollar-to-dollar estimate for the other 190 participants because their roles within the system were less defined and often entailed duties for which the system wouldn’t have hired temporary help.
School system officials recommended that the board consider a number of changes to the program that would make it easier to determine a clear value for each dollar spent in the program, including:
• assigning every participant to serve either as a substitute teacher (if qualified) or to fill another capacity with specific and direct calculable benefit to the system (such as SOL remediation);
• capping the maximum allowable salary to a participant at $90,000 annually;
• increasing the number of required years of Henrico service from 10 years to 15 years for eligible retirees and reducing the number of required years of service in the Virginia Retirement System from 16 to 15;
• requiring that interested participants notify the system of their intent by Dec. 1 annually and begin their participation the following July 1 (as opposed to the current system, which permits entry throughout the year – a minimum of 30 days after retirement – and makes budgeting for the program less predictable);
• grandfathering all current participants under the current standards until they have completed their seven years or dropped out of the program.
“We have determined that there’s a large responsibility on everyone’s part here to develop something that’s going to be very beneficial and cost-effective and also value-added to the school system,” Superintendent Pat Russo said during the work session. “That’s where we want to move this program.”
Current guidelines require that participants be at least 50 years old without having attained the age for full, unreduced Social Security benefits. The program initially was designed in part to serve as a bridge between retirement and Social Security, HCPS Finance Director Kevin Smith told the board. Using current standards, 854 current school system employees would be eligible to participate in the PREP program if they retired, HCPS Human Resources Executive Director Howard Banks said.
The board is expected to discuss the recommendations and the PREP program again at a meeting next month.
The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.
The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.
Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.
The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.
An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Charlottesville's Bella’s Restaurant recently opened a location in Short Pump Village, at 11408 West Broad Street. The restaurant is owned by Valeria Biesnti, a native of Rome who arrived in the U.S. at age 21 and later became a U.S. citizen. With her restaurants, Bisenti has sought to create an ambiance that welcomes diners in a casual setting, like her favorites from her hometown. > Read more.
A Henrico native will appear on the third episode of the Travel Channel's new grilling competition series “American Grilled.”
The episode, filmed in Charlottesville, will premier July 16 at 9 p.m. and feature Glen Allen-native Rex Holmes, a patent lawyer who operates http://SavoryReviews.com a blo,g centered around tasty recipes and BBQ.
The show features hardcore grilling enthusiasts from across the country going head-to-head for a chance to compete for a $10,000 cash prize and bragging rights when they are crowned the ultimate “grill master.” > Read more.
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